I’m going to shamelessly pull a cheat on you, unsuspecting readers. This is my story that appeared in the August issue of The Bombay Literary Magazine. Tell me what you think and all that.
What Girish knew about having sex with a woman came from spending hours studying his grandfather, the old watchmaker, repair old clocks.
Around the time that Girish turned 16, he found that the process of mending something broken and allowing something to chime again fascinated him more than even cricket. There was something soothing about his grandfather’s painstaking ways of repairing watches and clocks. He decided to study how his grandfather repaired time pieces and the study soon turned into a hobby.
While boys of his age played cricket in the Malleshwaram ground, he would walk down to the by lane of eighth cross where his grandfather painstakingly repaired clocks in a small, dusty one window shop. His customers had dwindled. Most of them were dead. He frequently heard his grandfather mutter that no one cared about grandfather clocks any more even as he continued to repair the few clocks that were brought to him. And
Girish would sit in the corner of the shop and try his hand at repairing a clock under his grandfather’s instruction. He felt important, grown-up, and alive as he did this.
Often, young men who worked in the nearby shops would tease his grandfather. “Baddimakkale, hogro” his grandfather would shout hoarsely. Persistent coughing had made him weak and irritable and voiceless. “Taatha, Fastrack kelidera? Get Fastrack”, the men would cackle and go about their daily chores. His grandfather would dismiss them by shutting the one window in his shop violently. Girish watched all this silently and tried to learn how to repair clocks.
“Da, really da, what you will do watching your grandfather, da? It’s not like you have to get into his business. Yako timepass madthiya? Play cricket, da, with us.”
Rakesh was the only friend he had. Rakesh tried to talk Girish out of what he perceived as Girish’s insanity. But for Girish, there was something fascinating about all those little screws, the tiny wheels, the thin linkers within a watch. He had no name for any of them. His grandfather had once tried to tell him. But a fit of coughing, always intense during the rainy days in Bangalore, made him stop. He waved his hands in a gesture of it-doesn’t-matter as he drank water from the dusty steel tumbler he always kept at his side.
Girish started with the bigger, regular alarm clocks. He wanted to figure out what made them tick. There weren’t too many to practice with. Really, in 2007, who repaired clocks anymore? But he had learned the art, the delicate trade of fixing something broken, something that was stuck, and something that refused to chime, or sing. He learnt to fix them all. A skill that made him smile.
By 2009, when he joined Infosys as one of the many software engineers to join that year, he knew all about clocks.
He knew nothing about girls or relationships, yet, unlike Rakesh who had a steady girlfriend. He didn’t dwell on his lack of companionship. He was
content to be working in his dream company. But one day when he was travelling from Malleshwaram, eighth cross to the Electronics City office in the BMTC bus hired by Infosys, Bhavya came and sat next to him. He had seen her before. But it hadn’t meant anything back then, when he was merely thinking of completing the probation period, and of proving his worth to a Telugu manager who didn’t seem to care what he did in office, except when he went out for a walk on campus. The campus was sprawling and lush with manicured gardens and paved walk-ways that led to fountains that soothed. He liked to take a walk to clear his head. It also helped him stay somewhat in shape. The last time he’d met Rakesh, Rakesh had joked about his paunch. But by the time he reached Building 21 from Building 1, the manager would be in panic. “Girish, we have a client call in another two hours.” “Girish, we have an All Hands today. We have to go to the Building 1 Auditorium in three hours. Where were you? Long tea break aa?” And he would say nothing. He would just sit and log in his credentials and get back to work. That day in the bus, Bhavya slept on his shoulder from Sankey Tank to Electronics City. She even drooled a bit on his blue checked shirt, a drop of her saliva clouding his navy blue tie. It was a Monday, ties were compulsory.
Not knowing what else to do, he studied Bhavya when he got tired of looking out of the window or whenever the bus halted in a jam. She wore a light blue salwaar kameez in a material that was silken to the touch. It made her sweat and he felt a line of wetness where her thighs touched his trousers on the bus seat. He couldn’t quite make out her face from where he looked, but her profile was pretty enough. What he did find unusual was the fact that she didn’t wear a watch. Instead, she had a gold bangle each circling her thin wrists. There were no rings on her fingers. And her nail polish, which was grey in colour, had chipped in places as if she bit on her nails all the time. Her badge said ‘Bhavya N’, followed by an employee number. He could tell she was a new joinee when he saw that number. By the time they had reached the turn towards Electronics City Phase 1, he knew he could close his eyes and see her in complete detail.
When the bus reached the Infosys’ Multi Level Parking Lot, she woke up. Looked up at him. Smiled. She was embarrassed. He just nodded. Sorry, she said. He just nodded again.
The next day, Bhavya sought him out in the bus, gave a small smile, and sat next to him. She leaned on him a bit and eventually dozed off.
On the third day, she dozed off with her hand touching his lightly. Her hand didn’t move throughout the journey and when she woke up, she didn’t look embarrassed any more. On the fourth day, they went together to the Kamath on campus and ate idlis and shared a vada. Bhavya didn’t talk much. He liked that about her. He could not miss her kajal rimmed eyes and the movement of her thick eye-brows with a small black dot in between. Her laugh was quiet. Her smile broad but didn’t show teeth. When they walked from the MLPL to Kamath, he noticed that she came up to his nose if they stood really close together. He wasn’t tall. He wasn’t even well-built. He had the body of any Kannadiga boy who studied for twelve hours continuously for eight years and ate rasam, sambhar, rice, and curd for dinner every night. Maybe with a pickle or a vegetable; or on special days, happla. He had a bit of a paunch from sitting in one place for hours studying, mending watches, and writing code. He wore shirts his mother picked up for him—stripes in blue, black, grey, and beige. For trousers, he would go shop with Rakesh, still his only friend, who now worked with Cisco and played on their cricket team. After 15 days of travelling and having breakfast together, Bhavya and he decided to synchronise their other breaks as well, including tea breaks where they only had coffee from the Terminal. He always got his Tupperware dabba and she always ate at the food court. He would find a seat and wait patiently as she first got herself a coupon, then slowly from another line, her food. Like him, she didn’t smile at too many people. Not even look up at many. She would balance her plate and wade her way to find him. He only saw her wear salwar kameezes in dull colours. He learnt that she lived with her sister who worked at Wipro.
“Why do you live in Malleshwaram then?”
“My aunt stays close by. My parents agreed to let us live on our own instead of a PG only if we lived in the same area as my aunt. In Tumkur, we would have been married by now.”
And she shyly dug into her rice and didn’t speak for the next ten minutes.
Girish wasn’t even sure this was the love he had vaguely dreamt of. The only love stories he knew about were from movies and television. This was nothing like that. What he did know was that when he was with her, he didn’t think of his manager. When he was with her, he felt at peace. He knew now that she didn’t really care for nail polish. Most days her nails would be without any polish, and then they no longer looked like she nervously bit her nails. Now he knew that her hand felt cold and filling like an analogue watch that was never repaired. But her fingers were slender by themselves. Soft to the touch and smooth like the dial from a classy Titan from the ‘Hers Wedding Collection’. He would draw circles on her palms as she slept on the bus and it would please him immensely that he could do that. He did not realise that he was doing them in a clockwise move. Just like he were trying to wind up an old Seiko.
And one day, he found himself alone with Bhavya in her house. He had gone there for a cup of coffee to be followed by a dinner at Halli Mane with her sister. They decided to rest a bit, side by side on the diwan in her hall because it had been a long day and that was the only furniture in the tiny room. It amazed him that he did that without feeling any sense of awkwardness. He had never felt this close to another human being. The thought made him happy. They woke up when Bhavya’s mobile rang. Her sister had called to say she would spend the night on campus because they had a code release the next day. She hung up and they continued to sleep. And somehow his hands had circled her waist. For the first time. Now he knew she was like the old grandfather clocks who slept a lot, and often forgot to chime, or struck the wrong hour. In the sleepy haze at twilight, they explored each other’s bodies. She was shy, she kept her wrists in a punch throughout. But he was fascinated. No porn that Rakesh had shared had equalled this sort of sense of time. She was really like a grandfather clock. Her hands and legs like a silken strap, her face a moon dial, her breasts, small and perky but with fat brown nipples like the dial on it. The veins and nipples formed a strange symmetry, a strange sense of hours and minutes. And then he moved her on top of himself. Ah the weight of her, spreading across him that way. He felt he was a part of her. A pendulum perhaps to the grandfather clock she was. And he entered her in that swinging, rhythmic motion he had first known about all those years ago after he had repaired the old grandfather clock. The earlier happiness gave way to a feeling of peace. He felt the way he had in his grandfather’s shop when he had successfully repaired an alarm clock on his own for the very first time. It was as if his past, present, and some undetermined time in the future all fused together, and for the first time in years he felt alive. He tuned her so much she let out little creaks of pleasure. An oddity. Yes, she was a grandfather clock. When he shifted positions and entered her, she let out five aahs although by then it was already nine o clock. She bit her lower lip when he came. This was the meaning he had missed since the days he had seen old clocks restored to order and timeliness.
They missed Halli Mane and had Maggi instead. There wasn’t much to be said.
“I will ask my parents to meet yours”, she said. He nodded.
That was his love story. It had to be. The thought made him smile.
In a marriage hall in Rajarajeshwari Nagar, they got married after spending a total of three lakh rupees. Bhavya quit Infosys to teach at a new engineering college that had opened in Ullala. He continued at Infosys. His manager quit the company to join Accenture. Now he could take long walks on campus timing it to match Bhavya’s breaks between classes so they could also talk on the phone. They would discuss groceries and each other’s days. It always ended with them deciding the dinner menu together.
After three months, he became a Project Manager. To celebrate, Bhavya invited their families for lunch on a Sunday. Their families were pleased.
“Bhavya is lucky for you. Now if both of you will give me a grandson, I can do a kashi yatre in peace”, his mother said. Bhavya’s parents beamed with pride. Bhavya went to the kitchen citing an excuse but he could tell she was pleased. She was smiling without showing her teeth.
They had all eaten well that day. Bhavya had made maavinkai chitranna, shavige payasa, and obbattu.
The paunch increased. After the guests left that night, they had sex and she told him that she wouldn’t take the pills any more. Having sex with his wife was clockwork. It didn’t interest him nor was he disinterested. The initial sense of peace and fulfilment had passed and made it routine. He felt safe, comfortable, maybe even happy if one didn’t describe happiness as bubbling euphoria.
This was life.
He didn’t think he lacked anything till he met Rakesh one Friday at a resort. Strangely, Cisco and Infy had booked the same resort at Electronics City for a team outing. Rakesh and Girish stepped away from their respective teams to catch up on old times. They met rarely now that they both had wives and families as Rakesh was now the father of a year old girl. It didn’t help that Bhavya did not like Rakesh’s north Indian wife.
“Do you remember Vishal, da?”
“No. Who is that?”
“He was on our school cricket team, kano, tall guy. Swalpa good-looking also. He never studied well. Comes from a middle class family like ours only. His mom was Rupa Ma’am, kano, remember?”
“No, da. No idea.”
“Well anyway, he is now a rich fucker, da. A house in Sadashivnagar, and one flat on rent in Palm Meadows, Whitefield, gotha? No one knew how he made money. He didn’t really go to work. And then last week, we had a client meeting at Taj Vivanta. That’s where I saw him. With a woman old enough to be, okay, maybe like 10 years older than my wife. And they took the elevator to the rooms upstairs. These days, da, you can do anything and earn a living. Anyway, what happened to switching from Infy? Or are you also going to grow old as NRN there? Yeno madthiya?”
Girish didn’t remember much of that outing. He was disconcerted. Meeting Rakesh always made him pause and reflect on his life. Rakesh told him that he was planning to immigrate to Canada and that his paperwork was almost complete. No more Cisco. No more India. He would only miss cricket, he had said. But he sounded happy. Excited. When Rakesh walked back to his team, he had been whistling tunelessly. Girish found himself thinking about his life. He always avoided such thoughts. But in the green surroundings of the resort with its fake jungle ambience he found that they would not stop. What was he doing in life? What was he really doing? He had a good job, and the prospect of a decent career if he stuck around. Ever since Bhavya had stopped taking the pills, he had resigned himself to being an Infosys employee. He didn’t think of it as a bad thing. But Rakesh made him feel as if he would grow old there and there would be nothing more to his life. He performed the team building games and laughed at all the right places. The mechanical response worried him. That’s what his life was now. Bhavya, the work, his world was mechanical. He wished he could do something else. He wished he had the conviction of his grandfather who repaired clocks even when there were no longer any to be repaired. He refused to drink when the men huddled in a corner together, and good naturedly put up with the jokes of being a Brahmin boy, a thayir sadam. He didn’t even correct his team to say he was not Tamilian so he couldn’t really be called that.
When he came home that day, he ate one chappati with the daal Bhavya had made, and switched on his laptop. Bhavya left him alone and went to bed saying she was feeling tired. He felt strangely excited and aroused. For a while, he only surfed through porn online, but that soon bored him. He thought he should try and get Bhavya to have sex but he didn’t really feel like it. He kept thinking about his grandfather and repairing clocks. So he logged on to YouTube and found ways in which to repair clocks. And suddenly it came to him. He finally had a notion about how to kill his boredom and kill time. Registering ‘timelyservice.com’ didn’t take much time. The website had only two tabs. In the ‘About’ section, he wrote ‘All sorts of services done in a timely fashion. I repair old watches, clocks.’ After a brief hesitation he added, ‘and women.’ In the Contact section, he added an email address.
For the first time in days he felt alive again. That weekend, Bhavya and he watched a movie together. They went to his mother’s place for dinner. On Monday, when he woke up, it didn’t feel like routine. He put on his tie and he found that he was humming a tune from the movie he had watched on Saturday. It made him smile.
When he checked his new email, he found there were four mails already. All four of them were spam. Even so, his excitement continued unabated. On the fourth day, Mrs. Deshpande wrote to him. An address in Vasanthnagar. And a time: 7 pm -9 pm; only on Friday. She also left a number.
He called her and she was brisk and business-like. She gave him directions to reach her home and told him not to be late. He agreed to meet her that Friday.
On Friday, he dressed in jeans and his black Finacle T-shirt. He took the 5.30 pm bus from the Infy campus and told Bhavya he had a conference call and that he would book a cab back. For effect, he bitched convincingly about the new 9.25 hours HR policy. She didn’t seem interested. Increasingly these days, she wasn’t much interested in him. She was three months pregnant now. She had terrible morning sickness and when that passed, she spent all her time in college and out of it talking to various women in the family and getting advice. They had stopped having sex entirely. They had never spoken about it before so now they had no language in which to discuss its absence.
When he met Mrs. Deshpande at her house, he felt very awkward. It was all exciting when he set up the process but now that he was face to face with her, he had no idea what to do. He only knew that no matter what, he would see this through. He wanted to feel satisfied. He wanted to feel excited. The last few days had made him feel alive and special in a way he hadn’t after that first time he had sex with Bhavya or when he used to successfully repair clocks in his grandfather’s shop. He was going to be his grandfather’s grandson.
She wasn’t old. He thought she was around 40. She had a decent figure. Not too fat. Not too thin. She looked like she took morning walks. What should he tell her? How would this start? She looked him up and down, and lit a cigarette. “Whiskey?”
“No, coffee, please.”
So they had their whiskey and coffee together. She told him about her husband who always travelled to Delhi every Friday and returned only on Tuesday morning.
As she spoke, she unpinned the pallu of her crisp cotton sari. She let the pallu fall and swirled the ice cubes in her glass. She didn’t seem to care that by now he was just staring at her breasts clad in a red blouse. He could tell that she wore no bra. Her nipples hardened. On Fridays, I treat myself, she continued, I got a facial today.
Girish nodded and sipped his coffee. Everything that was happening there was new and strange. But he felt calm now. He liked that she was talking. It eased the awkwardness. With one long gulp, she emptied the glass and stood up, unwrapping the sari as she went.
“Come, the room is on the right. We will use the guest room.”
She untied her sari skirt before she sat on the bed. She unbuttoned her red blouse. Her long nails transparent with a rim of white were brisk and efficient. So was her voice. “Don’t think of trying any stunts, she warned. Let me lead.”
She motioned for him to undress. Wash yourself first she said and pointed towards an adjoining bathroom. He did as he was told. He heard her skin rustle on the silken sheets on the bed. He had never felt more acutely aware of his senses. “There’s a condom in the shelf behind the mirror”, she said. “Wear it now if you want or I could put it on for you later.”
He walked back to the bed. She sat up at that and without allowing him to lie on the bed, she showed him what good, old fashioned mechanical watches were all about. She got him nicely aroused with her hands and tongue and then made him kneel by the bed, as she lay back on it. Instinctively, he proceeded to do what he had never done in his life, not even with Bhavya who would soon be the mother of his child. His tongue found fascinating places. With a little touch he got her to sigh; a flick and she moaned and her body shook; a slight probe with his finger and she arched and writhed on the bed rustling the brown silk underneath. She clutched his hair as he buried himself deeper in that complexity, working at fixing her needs. It was as if he were back in his grandfather’s shop—absorbed, at peace, curious, and eager to learn. After, she lit another cigarette. It felt too much like a foreign movie to him. But he was happy. He felt fulfilled.
“I know many women who would want to try your services, you know? Such things work well only through word of mouth. What were you thinking? Putting it up on a website? All you software types! Next thing you know, you will want testimonials. Please take the site off.”
She motioned for him to wear his clothes. As he dressed, she opened the bedside drawer and drew out a wad of many 100 rupees. As an afterthought, she pulled out a single 500 rupee note. He hurriedly pushed the money into his pocket and heaving his laptop bag, left to find an auto.
Once in the auto, he counted the money while avoiding the gaze of the auto driver and ensuring that the auto driver couldn’t see that he was counting money. He had 2,500 rupees with him. He smiled, put the money back in his pocket, sat back in the auto, and closed his eyes.